The Dramatic Shoe: A Selection from the Chester County Historical Society

I was fortunate to be "up close and personal" with these shoes and many others from the Chester County Historical Society at a recent conference. Colleague Professor Mary Doering, who teaches costume and textile history at the Smithsonian Masters Program in the History of the Decorative Arts (an academic partnership with George Mason University)  invited Nancy Rexford, author of Women�s Shoes in America, 1795-1930 and nationally recognized costume historian and me, to take part in a �shoe study session.�

None of the shoes shown here are timid. These are just a few of my personal favorites- the collection is extensive and impressive. Rich discussion and analysis resulted as part of the session, which I hope at some point we will be able to write up for you.

You have to appreciate the dramatic flourish of this over-the-top satin pleated "bow" ornament which dominates these 1876 cream kidskin wedding shoes. They were worn by Catherine Black for her marriage to Herman F. Myers and have a Marie Antoinette revival flair.

These bright boudoir slippers would have been the ideal indoor footwear for an elite woman, adding some dash beneath her wrapper. Of dark brown leather with red binding, all the emphasis is placed on the front of the slipper with its pleated pink bows, and appliqued green flowers set against a pink panel, c. mid 19th century.

There are two pairs of c. 1800 shoes which really caught my attention and inspired my pen.  If you have followed SilkDamask on twitter or facebook, you will know I have a penchant for plaid. These kidskin shoes with white/purple stripe plaid immediately captured a place among my footcandy favorites! Look at the elegant tassel ties and the impossibly pointy toes, c. 1800. Imagine how they would have looked, with accessories, visually breaking up the solid colors associated with white cotton, muslin, linen or silk of Neoclassical/Regency columnar dresses.

The second pair (pictured below) will be the subject of a future post, but until that time please do check out the excellent blog by our colleagues@2nerdyhistgirls

These are indeed rare slippers or sandals as they would have been known by the fashion forward ladies of the late 18th-early 19th century. The pink satin vamp has two pieces, laced together with a dark green ribbon. The sides and heels are open. The pointed toe has green embroidery in the form of tendriling vines, a perfect classical motif to accompany the slippers. The soles are suede and the insole features a removable quilted lining � I suspect these shoes were made for indoor wear, most likely for dancing.

All shoes are from the collection of the Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.

The exhibition �Profiles: Chester County Clothing of the 1800s� is on view through 30 August 2014.

All photos are by Kimberly Alexander @SilkDamask

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